For those of you who haven't experienced the holidays in Europe, you might be surprised by a few of the quirky traditions they have over here.
Yesterday was just another average grey-skied Amsterdam Sunday when out of the blue, I hear the sounds of a high school marching band pounding away on the street.
I live off of the Vijzlestraat, which is a fairly central avenue used by almost everybody, including Sinterklaas.
Sinterklaas is the Euro equivalent of Santa. He's got the characteristic white beard and comes bearing gifts. But the Dutch Santa has a much more unique background. This guy is arriving with his horses fresh off a steamboat from Spain - and this spectacle down below is his welcoming party.
Now, this scene is basically your standard scaled down Macy's parade, with small
floats pulled by little Euro-sized trucks. But, there is one thing that makes this parade a complete spectacle - and it's called Zwarte Piet.
This guy is a little black coloured Sinterklaas helper who used to be the right hand guy. Today, there are a bunch of little Zwarte Piets, just like the elves troop Santa Clause rolls with. But, these guys are all decked out with black painted faces.
That's right, black face!
It's really quite the thing to see good ol' Mister Santa come to town followed by a crew of little black-painted faces, but he does, and it is completely normal here. Many others would balk at the idea, with easy throwbacks to the slave trade and what not. And, there are many such stories to explain the painted faces, but most of us just accept he got that way from climbing down chimneys - with Sint's presents of course!
And truth be told, everybody loves these little characters. Particularly by the children who sing Sinterklaas songs with them in exchange for handfuls of pepernoten.
Out on the street with the children, Santa, and his parade of Piets, I couldn't help but be filled with a little Christmas spirit. But, not too much. I'm an American after all, and we do Thanksgiving first!